LOS DELINQÜENTES – Recuerdos garrapateros de la flama y el carril (2006)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

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This was a fun album to listen to, although I didn’t have as much time to digest it as I might have liked. This album is a compilation of material from the band’s previous material, put together after the death of one of their key members.  The music was recorded in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Their style is very eclectic, based on flamenco or rumba, and incorporating a mix of international popular music styles, including rock, reggae, and even a bit of rap. These kinds of fusion often turn into a mess, but these guys merge the styles into a cohesive, unique style. There appear  to be two singers, one who has a raspy voice more in line with (my relatively ignorant preconception of) flamenco singers, and another singer who sings in a higher register who reminds me of Manu Chao a bit.

The album title and many of the lyrics make reference to “garrapatas”, or ticks. The reference seems to refer to humble and/or rural origins (I don’t know their biographies). Many of the songs refer to the street, and to life on the margins of society. The tick metaphor seems to be used as a symbol of freedom from the trappings and expectations of society. I do speak Spanish, but a lot of Spanish/Andalusian slang & cultural references went over my head.

Overall quite an enjoyable album. If you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll miss out on the humor, but you’ll still enjoy the music. Fans of the afore-mentioned Manu Chao would probably like this album. Thumbs up.

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HENRYK GORECKI – Dawn Upshaw, London Sinfonietta, David Zinman ‎– Symphony No. 3 (1992)

Review by: Schuyler L
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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Note: Well, this isn’t something I’ve done… er, ever. Upon receiving the assignment, I considered the idea of reviewing a symphony proper which:
A. Was published in 1977
B. Has three movements, with the longest at nearly twenty-seven minutes
C. Is titled “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” in reference to its subject matter, the victims of the holocaust.

… And naturally, I realized that it just wouldn’t do to say some words about this piece whilst trying to insert the usual levity I like to employ for comedic effect (when I run out of more substantive comments).

And, naturally, I sort of put this one off altogether for a while just because of that…. unfairly, I must say, because levity does not a good review make, and I might just as well put off reviewing something whimsical for lack of serious things to say.

Anyhow, this piece turned out to be one of wonderful depth and character, so I’m glad I was assigned it after all. The first movement in particular is really graced by the fine conducting of David Zinman, whose studied decisions in phrasing and texture are doubly strengthened by the warm (and wonderfully recorded) strings of London Sinfonietta. In fact, the first movement flows along so purposefully and unhampered in its first thirteen minutes that we nearly forget the presence on this recording of star soprano Dawn Upshaw, whose entrance is nothing short of angelic. Her appearance is only a brief repose, however, from the trudging, descending minor basso ostinato that is its central motif. The overall impression is one of something vibrant and unique soon to be eradicated by some impending doom.

The lamentful B-flat minor of the slow, tranquillisimo second movement is where things get quite serious. The vocal, which unceremoniously enters at the start like a quiet prayer, floats and lilts at the very center of the melody for the first time, while swells of strings add to a timeless, cosmic feeling of compassion for all suffering in this pathos-filled movement.

Finally, a somber, slightly faster D minor theme brings us back down to Earth. We feel as though something is irretrievably lost; the strings at times evoke the texture of a church organ, and soon we realize that what we are hearing is not merely a requiem for the dead, but for the world as people once knew it; the promises of the 20th century, any sense of a shared history and culture across civilisation – all of it is gone, forever, and all that remains is what we have always had – memories. But all is not lost – when the D minor melody enters a second time, its appearance seems hopeful; a testament to the immutability of a culture divided and broken, but steadfast in its determination to remember its past while forging ahead into modern culture. The piece finally resolves to a lingering, heroic A major, before vanishing into the ether once more.

An essential piece for anyone interested in modern music. As George would say, one thumb, way up there.

RPWL – Plays Pink Floyd’s “The Man and The Journey” (2016)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

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Spoiler Alert : as implied, this album is based on earlier works by Pink Floyd. There are a number of familiar Pink Floyd songs rehashed for this project, most of them with title changes. A lot of the “fun” of the album is listening to a piece and seeing how long before you recognize the song. Many are immediately recognizable, some take longer. And a few are just sections of songs, or unexpected combinations of two or three songs. My review will give away most of the surprises, so I recommend listening to the album BEFORE you read the review. I know that saying “don’t read this review right now” is a weird way to begin a review, but I think it’s worth mentioning. If you’re wondering whether my review is positive or negative, be assured it is mostly positive, and this album is highly recommended for anyone with even a remote interest in Pink Floyd. So go listen to it first. What follows is my actual review …

RPWL is a German progressive rock band formed in 1997. They began as a Pink Floyd tribute band before branching off into their own music a few years later. This album was their most recent (2016), and I have to say I liked it a lot. Imagine a band more technically gifted than Pink Floyd, remaking old Pink Floyd songs — and not even the well-known versions, but little-known “alternate” versions from an obscure soundtrack project — and you know it’s going to be interesting. What follows is like a Twilight Zone-ish journey of familiar Pink Floyd songs with an air of unfamiliarity. It’s often a dizzying effect, because just when you think you know what’s coming next, they switch things up and the song will take a weird twist. I don’t know the original Pink Floyd project, so my expectations are of necessity based on the Piper/Saucerful/More/Ummagumma versions of these songs. I don’t know what parts the RPWL guys improvised and what parts are exact copies of the original music, so I’m just judging the songs as exactly what I’m hearing at the moment … whether the original Pink Floyd versions were better or worse (or equal) I’m not able to say.

The songs, and thus the journey, are mostly wordless. The music is largely based on atmosphere and special effects (as might be expected for 60s Pink Floyd). They do a good job with these effects. “Work” is especially well-crafted, with rumbling motors, pneumatic drills, bell strikes, train squeals, and precise percussion like falling hammers … a condensation of all the sounds of human labor in the industrial age. I’m not sure that it needs the funky guitar break near the beginning — it’s rhythmic enough on its own without obvious musical instruments barging in on it. Another “non-musical” song is “Doing It,” with sharp drumbeats and timpani strikes backed by strange droning that fades in and out. There’s a sense that it’s going somewhere rather than just meandering, but who can say where? Unlike “Work” with its obvious industrial noises, the message in “Doing It” is unclear. Who is doing what, exactly? Beats me.

Then there are the songs that sound like Pink Floyd songs, but only peripherally. “Sleep” is maybe the most effective, with its breathing sleeper, ticking alarm clock, eerie drugged-out synth background, and a growing sense of tension … which is to say, the beginning of “Time” crossed with the trippiest parts of the “More” album and dropped into the growing chaos of the first movement of “A Saucerful of Secrets.” The effect is an effective, even breathtaking synthesis of the three into an almost nightmarish sense of rushing forward (so throw in “On The Run” too, which it closely mimics).

Some sound like fragments of Pink Floyd mixed in with foreign elements, like “The Labyrinths of Auximines” which is an indescribable (for me) combination of the midsection of “Echoes” + piano riffs from the Bowie song “Aladdin Sane” + the descending space beeps from Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” (yes it’s that weird) … or “The Temple of Light” which sounds like the trippiest effects from More with somebody playing a warbly guitar line over them … or the brief intro “Daybreak Pt 2” which is the birdsounds from “Cirrus Minor” over the familiar ticking alarm clock. These are more like half-baked ideas than actual songs, but they’re never boring.

And then there are the standard Pink Floyd songs, or combinations of such songs. Some are more instantly recognizable than others. It took me awhile to realize “Daybreak Pt 1” is Roger Waters’ “Grandchester Meadows” (maybe because I haven’t listened to Ummagumma in ages). For the same reason I didn’t immediately recognize David Gilmour’s “The Narrow Way” — in fact I only knew it because they kept the title. I also probably couldn’t place “Beset By Creatures of the Deep” even though I actually HAVE the song on a rare Pink Floyd 60s bootleg of the same title, because I haven’t played it for so long … only the “Eugene-sampled” bass-line was familiar to me. It sounds like Eugene but it’s not Eugene.

On the other hand, “Nightmare” is VERY obviously “Careful With That Ax Eugene,” but with weird backward fade-in synths. You expect the shrieking climax in Eugene; here it can actually come as a surprise, because you forget you’re listening to Eugene and start thinking it’s something else. And then, even more surprisingly, it suddenly turns into … “Cymbaline”(!) I don’t mean something “like Cymbaline” either. I mean actually “Cymbaline,” lyrics and all. But with a very long (and honestly, a really good) jazzy guitar solo smack in the middle. It sounds like how I imagine a live version of that song would sound if played by Floyd in the 60s. All these dissonant elements sound like they shouldn’t work together, yet somehow, they do. The only fault with this song is the name — there’s nothing AT ALL Nightmarish about any of this. The Nightmare title would be far more apt for the previous song “Sleep” with its palpable sense of impending danger.

Likewise, “Afternoon” is simply a leaner and harder version of “Biding My Time,” which strays a little too far from the N’orleans jazzy charm of the original, especially when newer production techniques give it that cramped, heavy, on-top-of-itself sound. This sense of the music standing on top of itself occurs in a number of the songs, to a greater or lesser degree. It’s one of the few things I DON’T like about the album. Some music will work that way, but with Pink Floyd, the result is often more headache-inducing than impressive.

“The Beginning” — which for some reason is the eighth track instead of the first — was one of the coolest surprises, for me at least, because it’s “Green Is The Colour,” one of my very favorite Pink Floyd songs (easily the best song on More; I’ll take it over “Cymbaline” any day). This version is good enough in its way, although the percussion is too crash-bangy for such a tranquil song, and it’s another case where the music gets on top of itself as it goes along. It falls way short of the original, but it’s still a really good song because it’s based on a really great song.

“The Pink Jungle” is “Pow R Toc H” from the first album. It begins with a background of jungle noises that runs for the entire song. The music sometimes seems to fall in sync with that jungle background, reminding me of “Several Species …” and how nature-rhythms influenced man and eventually led to man-made rhythms. I was never a huge fan of the original Pow R Toc H, so I can’t find fault with the cover. At least the cover has less of those stupid “doy-doys” (a good thing in my book).

Finally, it all ends on “The End of the Beginning” … another one of the best surprises, as this one is the third movement of “A Saucerful of Secrets,” a song that I love in its entirety. This version is more grandiose than the original, since it’s the grand finale of the album. The sound is big and immediate, with a driving boom-bap percussion that seems out of place here, considering the original is very solemn and was literally meant to be a funeral dirge after a battle. It has that “stage Floyd” sound of that era, so much so that I wasn’t even surprised when a previously undisclosed audience began cheering at the end. I already suspected it was a live performance. It just “sounds” live, you know? Still and all, a reasonably good ending for a very good album.

If you’re a Floyd fan, especially of their 60s output, you really need to hear these guys. They’re skilled musicians with a good ear for this type of music, and this album is an obviously loving tribute to their biggest influence, something that only the most ardently purist and fanatical Floydhead could object to. It’s a strange and compelling thing, hearing these songs twice removed … once when Pink Floyd reinterpreted them for the soundtrack, and again when RPWL covered them here. It’s a surreal musical trip when you recognize something but it sounds alien at the same time, or when one Floyd classic morphs into another without warning. The unpredictability of the whole thing is the fascinating part, so much so that I was compelled to add that disclaimer, because I’d feel guilty if I robbed the newcomer of that sense of surprised wonder.

If you like Floyd — or even if you just have a taste for interesting progressive rock / art rock projects with intelligent production and rich tapestries of sound — then RPWL is well worth getting to know. And there’s no better place to start than here.

FRANK ZAPPA – The Grand Wazoo (1972)

Review by: Graham Warnken
Assigned by: B.B. Fultz

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My first Zappa album! Thanks for giving me the kick in the ass to finally get on it, B. B.

I’m not good at analyzing jazz. I enjoy listening to it, and I know when I like it, but I’d be hard-pressed to explain what differentiates this jazz from that jazz and so on and so forth. That said—I do know when I like it, and I like this. Given Zappa’s rather crazy reputation, it was surprisingly straightforward as a listening experience—now, as I said above, I don’t know how to analyze jazz, so it could be insanely idiosyncratic and complicated in ways I’m not qualified to talk about. But as a listening experience it was, well, pleasant. Not to imply that it’s elevator-music-style smooth jazz, but it’s not the kind of fusion that Miles Davis was doing from Bitches Brew onward. Which helped me to like it pretty immediately—really abrasive fusion isn’t something that endears itself to an immediate click, but I was pretty instantly down with this record. It’s energetic without becoming frenetic, engaging without becoming overwhelming. And mad props to the guy for making it after he’d had his voicebox crushed rather than just giving up on this music thing entirely.

So that was less a review and more a really vague and roundabout way of saying “I liked it.” I always end up being the last one to complete my review on these things, and the review never ends up being very good. I can talk about books and movies at great length, but when it comes to music I often don’t have a whole lot to say until I’ve listened to an album multiple times. That said, thanks again, B. B. More Zappa is in my future.

TERRY REID – The Other Side of the River (1973; 2016)

Review by: Dominic Linde
Assigned by: Charly Saenz

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Subdued but powerful, soft but rocking, basic but not simple, and thoughtful while being emotive and down-to-Earth. These are the descriptive phrases that kept running through my head while listening to Terry Reid’s the Other Side of the River. Originally released as just River, the album has been reissued several times—with dubious reasoning, as far as I know, other than it being a good album. I feel compelled to say that usually I’m not very into roots rock (I mean, it’s OK and occasionally thrilling), but there is a lot of heart in this record while maintaining an earthy and unassuming tone. The opening track “Let’s Go Down” sets the record up perfectly: slight interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars, a simple counter melody to accompany the admittedly lackluster vocals. But the vocals still carry a certain amount of expression and interesting timbre (maybe something like a cross of Rod Stewart and Ryan Adams, though Terry Reid was recording long before Adams ever did), saving the voice from being a downfall. And how about that electric violin? And the bassist who knows exactly when to get busy with the instrument and when to lay it back. Just one of those unexplainable songs where there’s nothing new or spectacular in particular. It just works together in a totally satisfying way.

And really, that’s how the album as a whole works: unspectacular but satisfying, not revelatory but gripping. You’ll come back for more. My only complaint is that it starts to wane toward the end. Track-by-track, the album is a collection of strong songs, but there is a certain amount of sameness that comes out not only in execution but in the style of the songs. Granted, this disc is not only comprised of the River album (in the first seven tracks) but also what I assume were outtakes or B-sides. And really, it is around where the bonus tracks start that the disc starts to lose its quality streak. Still, the bonus tracks are far from duds and are worth the listen. They’re just not as strong as what came previously. Recommended.

FAUST – 71 Minutes of Faust (1989)

Review by: Ed Luo
Assigned by: Dominic Linde

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The title pretty much says it all: seventy-one minutes of Faust doing what they do best, making noisy, raucous jam/sound collage mixtures. This album is actually a compilation of two earlier LPs, Munic and Elsewhere and The Last LP, both albums consisting of outtakes and alternative versions from their tenure in the seventies, taking out one track of each. Even so, this is a fun album for Faust fans that showcases all the various random shit the band does, albeit possibly not an album for newcomers of their music. Personal highlights include ‘Munic/Yesterday’ which sounds like their take on the Soft Machine’s ‘We Did It Again’, the totally fuckin’ wacked-out synch-grunting jams ‘Don’t Take Boots’ and ‘25 Yellow Doors’, the sixties garage deconstruction ‘Baby’, and the extended version of ‘J’ai mal aux dents’ from The Faust Tapes.

RHIANNON GIDDENS – Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015)

Review by: Syd Spence
Assigned by: Graham Warnken

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Ms. Giddens is a versatile performer. On this record she covers a plethora of rootsy styles everything from gospel folk, bluegrassy folk, folk folk, rockabilly, jazz among others. It’s got it all! And the voice, Oooo WEE, she has one. I wonder if she’s been on America’s got talent, because i bet she’d be a shoe in.

Despite all this talent, I loathe this record. Everytime i put it on, i just want to immediately stop it. Honestly, i’ve never made it all the way through. Hell, i haven’t made it all the way through most of the songs. The question you are probably asking right now is, “jeeze, is she that bad a song writer.” No she isn’t. I haven’t delved too deep, due to my instant revulsion, but she seems like an adequate rootsy musicians.

It’s just this album screams, SOLD AT STARBUCKS! This record is really emblematic of a trend in petty bourgeois society. The latest craze that’s sweeping this nations educated white middle class is back to the roots, retro hand crafted cool. You can’t throw a stone in a farmers market without hitting some neo folk blue grass singer. There god damn everywhere. And i get it, the world is a digital impersonal wasteland. Everything is going faster and faster, and god damnit, can’t we go back to simpler times. Thus we get shit like this.

See it’s not reason for the retro love that’s the problem, it’s the execution. See a going back to roots is a great idea. I have loved many of folky country good time swing old timey music. There is nothing wrong with that or nostalgia for an era you never experienced. But, and it’s big but, listening to these nufolk record is a pain, because all of it has super clear perfectionist production, that just sucks all the roots out. So when i listen to these records, I don’t feel i’m going back in time, I feel more like starbucks is curating retro cool to me. And that just instantly hits my revulsion button.

Look i’m not saying this record is bad. I’m just saying that capitalist culture is inherently alienating, and these nufolk records alienate me more than anything. Wholefoods presents the ‘20s is my idea of hell, but hey, if it’s your thing. Get this record! And enjoy your cultural zeitgeist meeting consciousness, you lucky prick!